Jose Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

A frustrated DeMarcus Cousins runs down the floor after not getting a call his way in the first quarter in Tuesday nights game between the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena on March 5, 2013.

As season nears end, Kings want to play spoiler

Published: Friday, Apr. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Apr. 6, 2013 - 8:43 am

The Kings' last victory came March 28 in Phoenix against the Suns, who, like Sacramento, will miss the playoffs.

That also was the last game the Kings will play this season against a team with no chance of making the postseason.

In their first two attempts to play spoiler, the Kings came up short.

Tonight, the Kings try again to play spoiler, hoping to stall the Dallas Mavericks' effort to pass the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Mavericks are the last team the Kings will play that is below .500 this season, but Dallas has not been eliminated from playoff contention, thanks to a strong push in recent weeks.

Kings coach Keith Smart doesn't believe his players have begun making plans for the offseason.

Even after Wednesday's loss to Houston, in which the Kings were "heavy legged" at the start, Smart said preparation for that game and Thursday's practice gave no indication the Kings are simply waiting for the season to end.

"You still try to play, and I'm still preparing the team to play and win," Smart said. "If you go into a game like that, you can very much (be) embarrassed. But this group, we've still got a lot of guys, all of our guys that still like to play and want to play. I think we'll still have some good efforts."

Smart said the fact the Kings overcame double-digit deficits before losing to the Houston Rockets is a sign that they haven't stopped playing hard.

The Kings are expecting the best effort from their opponents the rest of season, considering the stakes. Meanwhile, the Kings are trying to improve on the points of emphasis from most of the season, such as defense and ball movement.

If they don't, the final seven games could be blowouts. Smart said teams that have mentally checked out lose by 20 or 30 points late in the season.

He acknowledged that could happen if an opponent has a great shooting night, but he doesn't expect lopsided losses to occur because of a lack of focus or effort.

"They're all going to come in and play hard," said forward John Salmons. "They're all going to give it their best shot. They're all good teams. We know that coming in, so we have to be one of those teams that spoils a good playoff run."

Smart said the easiest way to get a team to stop caring is to change the coaching approach.

Benching veterans for the sake of getting in young players late in the season could splinter a team, and Smart has no intention of employing that tactic.

Smart said keeping a team focused on a goal is important, even with the playoffs no longer in the mix.

That's "when you keep everyone understanding we're still try to grow the team and build the team and guys have got to keep playing hard," Smart said.

Salmons said it should not be a challenge for players to finish out the season the right way.

"We're still out there playing," he said. "This is our job, it's something that we love to do. So we should be able to go out there, regardless of the situation and play our best and give our best shot."

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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